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16 Dec 2004 : Column 1299W—continued

Benefit Offices

Mr. Oaten: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many benefit offices there are in the UK. [205298]

Maria Eagle: DWP occupies approximately 1,800 buildings in Great Britain. Of these, The Pension Service is the major occupier in 44 buildings and Jobcentre Plus is the major occupier in 1,482. The Child Support Agency, The Appeals Service, Disability and Carers Service and the Department's Corporate Centre are major occupiers in a further 155 buildings.

The remaining buildings are occupied by the Health and Safety Executive and the Rent Service and are not connected with benefits.

Information about buildings in Northern Ireland is a matter for the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Child Support Agency

Mr. Wyatt: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions when Child Support Agency payments will be sent to (a) Amanda Thorogood, (b) Mark Young and (c) Michael Ashby, constituents of the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey. [205302]

Mr. Pond: The administration of the Child Support Agency is a matter for the Chief Executive, Mr. Doug Smith. He will write to my hon. Friend with the information requested.

Letter from Doug Smith to Mr. Derek Wyatt, dated 16 December 2004:

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Citizens Pension

Mr. Weir: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make it his policy to fund the introduction of a citizens pension in the UK paid to all pensioners on the basis of residency. [205406]

Malcolm Wicks: We are looking at a number of options to improve pension positions. A citizen's pension is an option, along with others, and deserves serious consideration.

Crisis Loans

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in what circumstances staff who process applications for crisis loans are able to seek clarification of details from the applicant. [205373]

Mr. Pond: The majority of crisis loan applications are made by applicants in person either by attending a Jobcentre Plus office or by telephone. Consequently all the required information will usually be acquired at the application stage.

However, if there is insufficient information with which to come to a decision or there is any reason to doubt the validity of the application a Social Fund Decision Maker is required to ask for as much supporting evidence from the applicant as is reasonable and necessary to substantiate the application. The Decision Maker may also investigate the validity of any information provided either anonymously or in confidence and which casts doubt on other evidence held.

It is the applicant's responsibility to provide all the evidence necessary to determine an application.

Disability Living Allowance

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) how long it took on average to process a disability living allowance application, broken down by level in the last period for which figures are available; [204429]

(2) what percentage of people were refused disability living allowance at each level on initial application in the last period for which figures are available. [204431]

Maria Eagle: The last period for which figures on the processing of claims is available is the month ending November 2004. During that period it took on average 34.3 days calculated in month, or 27.0 days calculated at year to date, to process initial disability living allowance (DLA) claims under normal rules.

The information on people refused DLA is not available in the format requested. Such information as is available is as follows:

In the financial year 2003–04, 50 per cent. (220,215) of decisions made on new claims for DLA were refused.

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Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what discussions he has had on raising the cut-off age for disability living allowance. [204432]

Maria Eagle: None. It is normal for pensions and benefits schemes to contain different provisions for people at different stages of their lives and disability living allowance is focused on providing extra help to people who are severely disabled early, or relatively early, in life.

Attendance allowance provides help with the disability-related extra costs of people who experience the onset of disability after age 65. Based on the need for personal care, this help is part of the wide range of support that the Government make available to older people so that they can have a decent and secure income in retirement and share fairly in the rising prosperity of the country.

Housing Allowance (Pathfinder Areas)

Ms Oona King: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how much has been spent on local housing allowance in each of the nine Pathfinder areas in (a) additional or increased housing benefit payments, (b) additional administrative costs and (c) additional funding for debt service and support services; and what percentage increase this represents on the previous year's expenditure in each area. [204466]

Mr. Pond: We do not have sufficient data at this time to calculate the cost of additional benefit payments resulting from the local housing allowance (LHA). However, we estimate that the additional annual cost of the LHA in 2004–05 across all Pathfinders will be around £23 million. The cost will vary across each pathfinder, depending on the number of recipients and the level of rents in each area. It is currently not possible to say what this would be as a percentage of the total benefits spend. The estimated expenditure in each local authority (LA) is in the table.
Local authorityAdditional LHA costs
(£ million)
North East Lincolnshire1.0

We have earmarked £6.2 million to support the additional administrative and IT costs associated with managing the implementation of LHA in the nine Pathfinder authorities. No funding has been allocated for "debt services". Although, in order to support those claimants who will be taking responsibility for paying rent to their landlord for the first time, local authorities
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have been funded to make suitable arrangements for the provision of appropriate help and guidance. The scope of the service provided will depend on the type and size of caseload and the anticipated level of demand in each authority.

As part of the £6.2 million, in 2003–04, £2.4 million was allocated to the nine local authorities to fund additional administrative and IT costs. This amounts to an 11 per cent. increase across the nine authorities. Included in this figure was £100k to pay for the claimant support service as described.

Invalidity Benefit

Mr. Laurence Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what steps he is taking to help people on invalidity benefit to obtain employment; and if he will make a statement. [202950]

Maria Eagle: Pathways to Work is a groundbreaking scheme designed to help people on incapacity benefits back into work. Early results from the current seven pilot areas are extremely encouraging. In his pre-Budget report on 2 December the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that these pilots will be extended, starting from October 2005, to an additional 14 Jobcentre Plus districts. This expansion will focus support on the 30 most disadvantaged local authority districts and means that the Pathways approach will be available to around 900,000 people.

In addition to the extension of the Pathways pilots there were a number of supporting measures announced in the pre-Budget report. These include an extra £30 million for New Deal for Disabled People in 2005–06; changes to the work focused interview regime; and improved arrangements for people on incapacity benefits to try out work and to take up self-employment. Also announced was extra support for GPs, including the piloting of improved arrangements on fitness for work advice and placing employment adviser support within interested GPs' surgeries.

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